Archive for November 2nd, 2014

A Sicilian romance

No, this post is nothing to do with Ann Radcliffe. I did read The Mysteries of Udolpho once, and, to slightly misquote Joel Cairo, my experience of reading Radcliffe was not such that I am anxious to continue it. No – this post is to share a few pictures from last week, which I spent with my better half in Sicily, hoping that this will both explain and excuse my rather long silence on this blog.

First, here is the Greek theatre in Siracusa (Syracuse), where Aeschylus himself is reputed to have performed.


And this is me waiting for the Oresteia to start. Or maybe it’s just the People’s Front of Judea.


I didn’t take any pictures inside Monreale Cathedral, as neither my crappy wee camera nor my crappy photographic skills could hope to capture the magnificence of the Byzantine mosaics. i would, however, recommend a google image search on Monreale Cathedral: some of the images really are magnificent. Here, however, is a view of the cloisters:


And here are a few of the magnificent Greek temples in Agrigento:


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And there’s Etna, of course. All week in Catania (where we were based), the clouds were low: we knew Etna was there somewhere, but it was out of sight. But then, on the last day, the clouds lifted, and we had a magnificent view of the smoking mountain. So here it is, taken from Catania Airport (do excuse the foreground):


I make no excuses for including among these pictures a snap of the bust of Verdi outside Palermo Opera House: Verdi is, after all, a great hero of mine.


And finally, there’s “The Burial of St Lucy” by Caravaggio, in the small church of Santa Lucia alla Badia in Siracusa. I had seen this picture in reproduction, but never, a it were, in the flesh. This is one of Caravaggio’s late paintings, executed while he was on the run: apparently, he fled from Siracusa, for reasons that we can only conjecture, as soon as he had finished this. And yet again, I find it difficult to reconcile the man who could have it in him to have painted so compassionate a vision of innocence and vulnerability crushed by the brute forces of violence, with the man who was himself a violent and murderous thug.

Dominating the lower half of the canvas are the gravediggers – two huge, monumental figures that even Michelangelo would have been proud of: this is, in effect, Merisi playing Buonarroti at his own game. But then, the eye is then subtly drawn to the frail corpse of St Lucy, lying on the ground between these two figures, her face turned slightly towards us, her foreshortened arm reaching out to us as if in supplication. And above it all, taking up some half of the huge canvas, is a dark void, a vast emptiness.

"The burial of St Lucy" by Caravaggio, courtesy of the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, Siracusa

“The burial of St Lucy” by Caravaggio, courtesy of the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, Siracusa

The theme of innocence violated and destroyed by brute forces of violence has particularly strong resonance in our own time; it could be argued, I suppose, that there has never been a time when it hasn’t had strong resonance. And it is hard to imagine a time when this painting, or that terrible final scene of King Lear, will cease to resonate. It is moving beyond words.

Well, that’s enough of holiday snaps. This blog will now be returning to its usual, mundane self.